Our Wild Neighbors

Song Sparrow

Melospiza melodia

A beneficiary of cleared spaces

Image of a Song Sparrow, mounted and seen close up and from an angle with its head to the right.

Description of the animal

  • A small sparrow from 15 to 17 centimetres long. Its plumage and morphology vary according to its geographical location. In North America, there are 52 sub-species of Melospiza melodia.
  • Its back and the top of its head are brown, with darker stripes on the back and a white line on the top of the head.
  • The breast is white with dark stripes and a dark patch in the centre.
  • Its wings are various shades of buff.
  • The eyebrows are greyish, the irises dark brown, and the beak is brown and conical.
  • The long tail is rounded and reddish-coloured.
  • The legs and feet range from dark brown to reddish brown.
  • The male and female look identical.
  • This bird has a melodious song.

Habitat and needs

  • It prefers yards, fields, open forests, urban parks, and shrub lands near waterways.
  • In October, it migrates towards the southern United States. It is one of the first species of sparrow to return in the spring.
  • In flight, it flips its tail up and down.
  • It is omnivorous. In breeding season, the song sparrow feeds on insects and for the rest of the year, it eats seeds and small berries. It scratches the ground and beneath shrubs and bushes in search of food.
  • This bird works hard to improve its song. The more elaborate the song, the more it appeals to females. The song serves to establish its territory. While the song sparrow is singing, it will often place itself in full view, with the intention of driving rivals away. Its song is a veritable dialect.
  • The song sparrow constructs its nest on the ground or low in the bushes. Its nest is often the scene of parasitism. Female Brown-Headed Cowbirds come, remove one of the song sparrow's eggs, lay one of their own, and leave!

Relationship

  • The song sparrow visits bird feeders regularly.
  • It is adapted to human-induced habitats: abandoned fields, clear-cut areas, roadside environments, and urban parks.
  • It helps the fight against weeds, for it loves their seeds. It also helps disperse the seeds of fruit-bearing shrubs.

Living with them

  • To attract song sparrows:
  • Put up bird feeders with a platform;
  • Sprinkle birdseed on the ground;
  • Landscape the yard to appeal to the song sparrow’s tastes: with perches and water available; dense and low or tall and scattered vegetation; but access to the ground always available so it can find seeds.
  • Beware of cats! They will often destroy nests, and even eat the song sparrow's eggs.
  • Song sparrows sometimes fly into windows; they see their reflection and think that another male is intruding on their territory. A non-reflective surface can prevent this behaviour.

Participating cities where this animal has been seen